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In this article, we combine aspects of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Disability Studies (DS) to propose a new theoretical framework that incorporates a dual analysis of race and ability: Dis/ability Critical Race Studies, or DisCrit. We first examine some connections between the interdependent constructions of race and dis/ability in education and society in the United States and why we find it necessary to add another branch to Critical Race Theory and Disability Studies. Next, we outline the tenets of DisCrit, calling attention to its potential value as well as elucidate some tensions, cautions, and current limitations within DisCrit. Finally, we suggest ways in which DisCrit can be used in relation to moving beyond the contemporary impasse of researching race and dis/ability within education and other fields.
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Dis/ability critical race studies
(DisCrit): theorizing at the
intersections of race and dis/ability
Subini Ancy Annamma a , David Connor b & Beth Ferri c
a Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity, University of
Colorado-Boulder, Boulder, USA
b Special Education, Hunter College, CUNY, New York, USA
c Department of Teaching and Leadership, Syracuse University,
Syracuse, USA
Version of record first published: 30 Oct 2012.
To cite this article: Subini Ancy Annamma , David Connor & Beth Ferri (2013): Dis/ability critical
race studies (DisCrit): theorizing at the intersections of race and dis/ability, Race Ethnicity and
Education, 16:1, 1-31
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Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit): theorizing at the
intersections of race and dis/ability
Subini Ancy Annamma
*, David Connor
and Beth Ferri
Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity, University of Colorado-Boulder,
Boulder, USA
Special Education, Hunter College, CUNY, New York, USA
Department of Teaching and Leadership, Syracuse University, Syracuse, USA
In this article, we combine aspects of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and
Disability Studies (DS) to propose a new theoretical framework that
incorporates a dual analysis of race and ability: Dis/ability Critical Race
Studies, or DisCrit. We rst examine some connections between the
interdependent constructions of race and dis/ability in education and
society in the United States and why we nd it necessary to add another
branch to Critical Race Theory and Disability Studies. Next, we outline
the tenets of DisCrit, calling attention to its potential value as well as
elucidate some tensions, cautions, and current limitations within DisCrit.
Finally, we suggest ways in which DisCrit can be used in relation to
moving beyond the contemporary impasse of researching race and dis/
ability within education and other elds.
Keywords: race; ability; dis/ability; Critical Race Theory; Disability
In this article, we combine aspects of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and
Disability Studies (DS) to propose a new theoretical framework that incor-
porates a dual analysis of race and ability: Dis/ability Critical Race Studies,
or DisCrit.
We rst examine some connections between the interdependent
constructions of race and dis/ability in education and society in the United
States and why we nd it necessary to add another branch to Critical Race
Theory and Disability Studies. Next, we outline the tenets of DisCrit, calling
attention to its potential value as well as elucidate some tensions, cautions,
and current limitations within DisCrit. Finally, we suggest ways in which
DisCrit can be used in relation to moving beyond the contemporary impasse
of researching race and dis/ability within education and other elds.
For a century or more it had been the dream of those who do not believe
Negroes are human that their wish should nd some scientic basis. For years
they depended on the weight of the human brain, trusting that the alleged
*Corresponding author. Email:
Race Ethnicity and Education, 2013
Vol. 16, No. 1, 131,
!2013 Taylor & Francis
Race Ethnicity and Education 2013.16:1-31. downloaded from
underweight of less than a thousand Negro brains, measured without reference
to age, stature, nutrition or cause of death, would convince the world that
black men simply could not be educated. Today scientists acknowledge that
there is no warrant for such a conclusion(W.E.B. Du Bois 1920)
Introduction: racializing ability, disabling race
Drawing on tools of scientic racism, including post-mortem studies of
human brains, scientists have attempted to prove the inferiority and lower
intelligence of African Americans in order to justify segregation and inequi-
table treatment within the United States and beyond. In his essay, Racial
Intelligence, Du Bois (1920) highlighted some of these attempts to align
ability with racial classication. These attempts included comparing skeletal
and cranium sizes without regard to age or developmental conditions, and
giving tests that required individuals to ll in details of pictures depicting
things they had never seen before such as tennis courts or bowling alleys.
Du Bois chronicled what is now widely recognized as a continued attempt
throughout history to provepeople of African descent possessed limited
intelligence and were therefore not quite fully human. This notion had been
reied throughout the nineteenth century in the elds of phrenology and
racial anthropological physiognomy that claimed physical attributes were the
basis of intellectual, social, and moral growth. Black and brown bodies were
viewed as less developed than white bodies, more primitive,and even
considered sub-species of humans (Trent 1998). This historical conceptuali-
zation of human differences was used to justify the slavery, segregation,
unequal treatment, harassment, violence and even murder of black and
brown bodies (Menchaca 1997; Valencia 1997).
Unfortunately, the legacy of historical beliefs about race and ability,
which were clearly based on white supremacy, have become intertwined in
complex ways that carry into the present day. Segregated special classes
have been populated with students from non-dominant
racial and ethnic
groups, from immigrant populations, and from lowersocial classes and
status since their inception (Erevelles 2000; Ferri and Connor 2006; Franklin
1987). A disproportionate number of non-dominant racial, ethnic, and
linguistic continue to be referred, labeled, and placed in special education,
particularly in the categories of Learning Disability, Intellectual Disability
(formerly called Mental Retardation), and Emotional Disturbance or Behav-
ior Disorders (Harry and Klingner 2006; Losen and Oreld 2002). These
categories often referred to as high incidence categories, are the most prob-
lematic in terms of diagnosis because they rely on the subjective judgment
of school personnel rather than biological facts. Although it is perhaps easier
to conceptualize dis/abilities that are clinically determined(i.e. based on
professional judgment) as subjective, all dis/ability categories, whether
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physical, cognitive, or sensory, are also subjective. In other words, societal
interpretations of and responses to specic differences from the normed
body are what signify a dis/ability. Indeed, notions of dis/ability continually
shift over time according to the social context. Thus, dis/ability categories
are not givenor realon their own. Rather, [dis/abilities such as] autism,
mental retardation, and competence are what any of us make of them
(Kiiewer, Biklen, and Kasa-Hendrickson 2006). Moreover, even dis/abilities
that might seem self-evident are largely determined by relatively arbitrary
distinctions between, for instance, what is considered poor eyesight and
what constitutes blindness. Of course, while disability and ability are seen
as either/or categories, how well someone can see or hear is largely inu-
enced by the context such as the existence of light and color and the
degree of background noise and tone. Likewise, the denition (and even the
terminology) of intellectual dis/ability has been revised continually, most
notably when the AAMD (American Association of Mental Deciency)
revised the denition of mental retardation in 1973 from those with a mea-
sured IQ score of 85 to an IQ score of 70. In the stroke of a policy change,
many people who had been labeled as mentally retarded were essentially
curedof their condition. This monumental change was largely the result of
special education coming under re for the over-representation of students
of color in programs for students with intellectual dis/abilities.
Despite this change in denition, however, African American students
continue to be three times as likely to be labeled mentally retarded, two
times as likely to be labeled emotionally disturbed, and one and a half times
as likely to be labeled learning disabled, compared to their white peers
(Parish 2002). African American students, in particular, are at risk of being
over-represented (Fierros and Conroy 2002), but Latino, American Indian
and Native Alaskan students are also disproportionately represented, particu-
larly in states with large numbers of students from these groups (Losen and
Oreld 2002). Over-representation of students of color is much less likely in
dis/ability categories that are sensory or physical in nature such as blindness,
deafness, or physical impairments. This fact alone is evidence that race and
perceived ability (or lack thereof) are still connected within educational
structures and practices today albeit in much more subtle ways (Harry and
Klingner 2006).
As critical special educators whose work involves challenging commonly
accepted notions of dis/ability, we are most interested in researching the
ways that race and dis/ability intersect. However, to date we have found
very few theories that sufciently examine the ways these two markers of
identity interact with each other. Several scholars have noted that many in
Dis/ability Studies (DS) leave race unexamined (Bell 2006; Blanchett 2006;
Connor 2008a). Other critical special educators employ either DS on its
own and mention race as a mitigating factor (Reid and Knight 2006). Others
have begun to nd points between DS and Critical Race Theory (CRT) with
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view to showing CRT how this intersection can offer more nuanced readings
of the way race and ability are deployed in schools and in society (Erevelles
2011; Erevelles, Kanga, and Middleton 2006; Ferri 2010; Leonardo and
Brodderick 2011; Watts and Erevelles 2004). These efforts have contributed
greatly to our understandings about how race and ability interact in complex
ways, yet some of these attempts still seem to leave one identity marker
foregrounded, while the other is an additive and subsequently defaults into
the background. In the eld of CRT, for instance, it has been noted that the
topics of dis/ability and special education are not sufciently represented or
simply omitted, despite many overlapping interests and concerns that hold
the promise of potentially strong allegiances between researchers (Connor
2008b). Similarly, there remains a vital task of fully accounting for race and
critiquing the deployment of whiteness within the eld of DS (Bell 2006;
Blanchett 2010; Leonardo and Broderick 2011). Given the ways that race
has gured so prominently in special education status, we would argue that
it is nothing short of irresponsible to leave race out of dis/ability related
research in special education.
Recently, scholars have begun to examine the intersection of race and
dis/ability in more complex ways. For example, Erevelles and Minear
(2010) illustrate the value of intersectional approaches to race and dis/ability,
while specifying three differing approaches used in current scholarship on
the constitutive features of multiply minoritizing identities(127). They
outline these approaches as follows:
(1) anticategorical frameworks that insist on race, class, and gender as
social constructs/ctions; (2) intracategorical frameworks that critique
merely additive approaches to differences as layered stigmas; and (3)
constitutive frameworks that describe the structural conditions within
which social categories in the above models are constructed by (and
intermeshed with) each other in specic historical contexts.
It is clear that intersectional work on race and dis/ability is complex by
nature. Perhaps this is, arguably, what has drawn a small but growing
constellation of scholars in CRT. At a recent conference on CRT, for
instance, several researchers addressed the intersectionality of race and dis/
ability in diverse areas such as mainstream lms (Agosto 2012), teacherstu-
dent verbal interactions (Davila 2012), and notions of normalcy (Watson
et al. 2012). The keynote presentation titled, Intersectionality and the
Primacy of Racism: Race, Class, Gender and Disability in Education
(Gillborn 2012), fully accounted for the intersections of race and dis/ability.
While arguing that race can unapologetically be positioned at the front and
center of intersectional work, Gillborn incorporated dis/ability as a marker
of identity and social location, alongside the more widely accepted classi-
cations of social class and gender. In other words, Gillborn recognizes that
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it is ne for a primary interest to drive a researcher, but imperative that
other dimensions must be taken seriously within the work, rather than giving
a cursory nod before moving on. Thus, by analyzing multiple dimensions
within a specic context, researchers are able to see how they can mesh,
blur, overlap, and interact in various ways to reveal knowledge, such as
Gillborns research on black children identied as dis/abled in the UK
revealing how perceptions of race can trump social class status. The product
of deeply entrenched racism embedded within educational and societal struc-
tures, Gillborns research shows how students who are positioned as black
and disabled experience myriad educational and social inequalities.
Given the small but growing interest in ways that race and dis/ability are
co-constructed, we argue the time is right to propose Dis/ability Critical
Race Studies (DisCrit). DisCrit explores ways in which both race and ability
are socially constructed and interdependent. As scholars working within Dis-
Crit, we seek to examine the processes in which students are simultaneously
raced and dis/abled. Culling from the work of Solórzano and Bernal (2001)
in which they illustrated how Chicana and Chicano students live between
and within layers of subordination base on race, class, gender, language,
immigration status, accent, and phenotype (Johnson 1998) so that these
students do not tneatly into a single category(335), we believe that stu-
dents of color who have been labeled with dis/abilities live in this same
complex world where they do not t neatly into any one category. However,
for students of color, the label of dis/ability situates them in unique positions
where they are considered less thanwhite peers with or without dis/ability
labels, as well as their non-disabled peers of color. In brief, their embodi-
ment and positioning reveals ways in which racism and ableism inform and
rely upon each other in interdependent ways.
In order to examine the connections between the construction of race and
dis/ability, we have separated this article into three parts. In the rst section
we explicitly name our rationale; why we believe it is necessary to add
another branch to CRT and why the location of being both a person of color
and a person labeled with a dis/ability is qualitatively different for students
of color than white students with a dis/ability (Crenshaw 1993; Solórzano
and Yosso 2001). In the second section, we outline the tenets of DisCrit.
Finally, in the third section, we elucidate some tensions and cautions within
Rationale for DisCrit
Scholars outside Dis/ability studies might see an article about dis/ability and
think, This is a special education issue so I do not have to concern myself.
However, we believe that issues of perceived dis/ability constitute issues of
equity that involve all people. Like Du Bois before them, many critical
scholars outside the eld of special education have recognized that the social
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construction of dis/ability depends heavily on race and can result in
marginalization, particularly for people of color and those from non-domi-
nant communities (Gutiérrez and Stone 1997; McDermott, Goldman, and
Varenne 2006; Oakes 1995; Rubin and Noguera 2004). Given the racial gap
in graduation, incidents of discipline, and incarceration rates, along with vast
over-representation of students of color in special education and the lacklus-
ter achievement rates within many of these special education programs, we
must critically examine why so many students labeled with a dis/ability, par-
ticularly students of color, are either experiencing failure or being perceived
as failing and on what grounds.
We introduce DisCrit as an exploratory conversation wherein we ask,
How might DisCrit further expand our knowledge (or understanding) of
race and dis/ability?We seek to add important dimensions to CRT analysis
by considering the ways race and dis/ability are co-constructed. Our goal is
not to replace or replicate CRT, but to recognize what it both enables and
constrains and then propose the necessity of considering ability within the
framework. Indeed, we are indebted to CRT, LatCrit and Fem-Crit (as well
as Feminist Legal Studies), along with Dis/abilities Studies theorists, for
laying the groundwork and stimulating our thinking in this endeavor (Bell
1987; Berry 2010; Brantlinger, 1997; Crenshaw et al. 1995; Delgado Bernal
2002; Delgado and Stefancic 2001; Erevelles et al. 2006; Ladson-Billings
and Tate 1995; MacKinnon 1998/2011; Reid and Valle 2004; Solórzano and
Bernal 2001; Solórzano and Yosso 2001). We draw on many of these works,
not to co-opt them, but rather to illustrate points of connection between and
among dis/ability and the various social locations theorized by these scholars
with the intent to further develop theory that will be of service in under-
standing the lived realities of people. DisCrit is an attempt to recognize a
conuence between elds that are profoundly connected but are, for various
reasons, often unable or unwilling to engage in joint thinking and efforts to
solve issues faced by people of color. The aim of DisCrit is to push DS and
CRT to academically and practically bridge commonalities utilizing the
tensions between the theories as places for growth instead of resistance and
separation. Ultimately we want to extend CRT and DS in ways that are
useful and thoughtful to better understand how concepts of race and ability
are intertwined.
We believe, for instance, that racism and ableism are normalizing
processes that are interconnected and collusive. In other words, racism and
ableism often work in ways that are unspoken, yet racism validates and rein-
forces ableism, and ableism validates and reinforces racism. For students of
color, race does not exist outside of ability and ability does not exist outside
of race; each is being built upon the perception of the other (Crenshaw 1993).
However, because racism and ableism are so enmeshed in the fabric of our
social order, [they] appear both normal and natural to people in this culture
(Delgado and Stefancic 2001, 21). Our goals, then, align with Delgado and
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Stefancics (2001) desire to unmask and expose the normalizing processes of
racism and ableism as they circulate in society.
A DisCrit theory in education is a framework that theorizes about the
ways in which race, racism, dis/ability and ableism are built into the interac-
tions, procedures, discourses, and institutions of education, which affect
students of color with dis/abilities qualitatively differently than white stu-
dents with dis/abilities (Crenshaw 1993; Solórzano and Yosso 2001).
qualitatively different experiences of students of color labeled with the same
dis/ability in comparison to white peers in education settings is illustrative.
For example, students of color tend to be educated in settings segregated
from the general population more often than their white peers with the same
dis/ability label who were more likely to receive support in the general edu-
cation classroom and learn alongside their general education peers (Fierros
and Conroy 2002). In other words, dis/ability status justies segregation and
unequal treatment for students of color compared to their white counterparts.
Additionally, African American students are 67% more likely than white
students with emotional and behavioral problems to be removed from school
on the grounds of dangerousness and 13 times more likely than white
students with emotional and behavioral problems to be arrested in school
(Meiners 2007, 38). Dis/ability status works somewhat differently within
higher education. For example, although there has been an increase in
students with Learning Dis/abilities (LD) entering college, the majority of
students are white and from families whose annual income exceeded
$100,000 (Reid and Knight 2006); signaling that being white and possessing
economic means allows a student with LD to gain access to higher educa-
tion. The experiences of students of color with dis/abilities, such as where
they are educated, with whom they are educated, and their access to college,
tend to be qualitatively different than the experiences of their white peers
with the same label (Blackorby and Wagner 1996). The role of the liberal,
white middles class in maintaining structures and practices of privilege
within education has been documented by Brantlinger in her study of social
class and race interlock (2003).
Using DisCrit, we seek to address the structural power of ableism and
racism by recognizing the historical, social, political and economic interests
of limiting access to educational equity to students of color with dis/abilities
on both macro and microlevels (Connor 2008a). We recognize that ability
and dis/ability are perceived and created based on ideologies of race and
located within social and institutional structures as well as personal attitudes.
As Collins (1990) notes:
First, the notion of interlocking oppressions refers to the macrolevel connec-
tions linking systems of oppression such as race, class, and gender. This is the
model describing the social structures that create social positions. Second, the
notion of intersectionality describes microlevel processes-namely, how each
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individual and group occupies a social position within interlocking structures
of oppression described by the metaphor of intersectionality. Together they
shape oppression. (492).
DisCrit seeks to understand ways that macrolevel issues of racism and
ableism, among other structural discriminatory processes, are enacted in the
day-to-day lives of students of color with dis/abilities.
Additionally, we nd Crenshaws (1993) work on intersectionality useful
for theorizing the ways in which race and ability are likewise intertwined in
terms of identity. Similar to Crenshaws articulation of race and gender,
students of color labeled with a dis/ability likewise have no discourse
responsive to their specic position in the social landscape; instead they are
constantly forced to divide loyalties as social conict is presented as a
choice between grounds of identity(Crenshaw et al. 1995, 354). Although
Crenshaw does not speak directly to dis/ability, Watts and Erevelles (2004)
contend that students of color labeled as disabled, like women of color or
gay and lesbian people of color, must also choose where to stand in social
conicts with groups that do not fully share their identities. Moreover, in
terms of dis/ability identity, dis/abled students are often positioned such that
they are likely (and even encouraged) to reject identifying as disabled as
something that is inherently negative or shameful (Connor 2008a) rather
than a potentially politicized identity or critical consciousness (Peterson
2009; Shakespeare 1996). The consequences of simply being labeled as dis-
abled, even if one does not claim that identity, can result in rejection from
cultural, racial, ethnic and gender groups (Goodwin 2003). Moreover, unlike
race and ethnicity, individuals who are disabled, like individuals who are
lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) typically do not share this
social status with their immediate family members (Morris 1991; Shake-
speare 1996). DisCrit draws on insights from Dis/ability Studies to provide
a discourse responsive to the social positioning of students of color with a
dis/ability, reframing dis/ability from its subordinate position to a positive
marker of identity and something to be claimed(Caldwell 2011; Linton
The ways in which over-representation of students of color in special
education currently work, reinforces the racial hierarchies the US subscribes
to, namely: (1) the under-representation of Asian Americans, which
problematically allows them to be seen as a homogenized modelminority
(Lee 2009); (2) the exclusion of Native Americans in almost all research
and continues to emphasize their invisibility in education and larger societal
discourse even though they are vastly over-represented in many categories
of special education, particularly in states with large numbers of Native
American students (Brayboy 2006; Fierros and Conroy 2002); (3) the over-
representation of Latinos/Latinas in some regions of the country where their
population is high and the ways those who speak a second language
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intersects with notion of ability. Additionally, emerging bilinguals are more
likely to be over-represented in middle and high school and this timing may
coincide when they are exited or graduated from segregated ESL or bilin-
gual programs (Artiles et al. 2005); and (4) and the continual over-represen-
tation of African Americans across the US, regardless of social class,
positions them as the continual problem in American education (Erevelles
et al. 2006). Each of these trends in over-representation must be examined
in relation to race and ability. In this case, an additional consideration would
include gender, given that most of these statistics represent males; at the
same time, females of color are also disproportionately represented in disci-
plinary actions, special education and the juvenile justice system compared
to their white female peers (The American Bar Association and National
Bar Association 2001; Losen and Skiba 2010; Mendez and Knoff 2003;
Oswald, Coutinho, and Best 2002).
As we frame our discussion of DisCrit, we draw on research that relies
on the statistical categories of ability and race because these categories result
in socially constructed inequities, not because we believe they are necessar-
ily biological realities. This is essential to state explicitly as we do not want
to impose identity categories upon any one individual or group of people.
Instead, we seek to highlight how the process of structural racism externally
imposes identities on individuals by applying socially constructed labels. We
also hope to illustrate how specic consequences are associated with label-
ing. We therefore acknowledge that while ability and racial categories are
socially constructed, they continue to have real material outcomes in terms
of lived experiences.
DisCrit problematizes the ways that binaries between normal/abnormal
and abled/disabled play out in a range of contexts. From the physical layout
of K-12 schools, where special education is often relegated to separate hall-
ways or even buildings removed from the rest of the students, to universities
where departments of Special Education are often detached from Curriculum
and Instruction in schools of education (Young 2011). Thus, in symbolic
and material ways dis/ability occupies quarantined spaces (Foucault 1977:
Graham and Slee 2007). Similar lines are drawn in such diverse contexts as
lm and media, to publications on dis/ability, to sports and recreation.
Where particular kinds of texts get published and circulated is another
salient example of this line between able/disabled. For example, articles that
focus upon the over-representation of students of color are often published
in special education journals, whereas articles that are perceived as general
education topics are published in journals that are specic to general educa-
tion. Thus, rarely do these topics of race and dis/ability intersect. When
those of us in special education attempt to write for a general education
journal audience, editors respond that we must give explicit explanations for
why our work should be read by those who do not work within the eld of
special education. This professionally enforced line between special
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education and general education journals sustains and encourages the
compartmentalization of these two articially separated domains instead of
seeing sharing the same eld of education. Furthermore, the separation of
research reies the differences between ability and disability, emphasizing
divisions among educators and the students we serve.
We see this generalspecial dividing line being drawn in K-12 schools,
teacher education programs, teacher certication, education research, and
society at large. It is a line that is focused upon what children with dis/abili-
ties cannot do, instead of emphasizing what their strengths are and what
unique abilities they possess. It also reies some students as regularor
normative and others as so different that their instruction should be left to
specialists. DisCrit questions how this line is drawn, how it has changed
over time for a variety of types of dis/abilities, who has the control over this
line, and what effects the line produces in education and in society? In other
words, DisCrit recognizes the shifting boundary between normal and abnor-
mal, between ability and disability, and seeks to question ways in which
race contributes to one being positioned on either side of the line. Like
whiteness as a social construct or the phenomenon of differential racializa-
tion, which both expand and contract racial categories to include and
exclude different people in order to limit and extend benets of being
labeled as such, ability and disability changes throughout history in similar
ways and are deeply impacted by perceptions of race (Banks 2002; Delgado
and Stefancic 2001; Leonardo 2007). In order to understand this phenome-
nological line,it will be necessary to examine ways in which differential
minority groups have become racialized in various regions of the country
throughout different periods of time and how beliefs about of dis/ability
affect those occurrences.
Encountering the social construction of dis/ability, many people pose the
question, Are you arguing that there are no physical or mental differences
in abilities?In response, we would acknowledge that there are, of course,
corporeal differences among humans though those differences are rarely, if
ever, as xed and obvious as generally assumed. However, we are most
interested in human responses to those differences we currently call dis/abil-
We do not see the benet of drawing what is inevitably an arbitrary
(and unstable) line, where certain differences are not perceived as part of
normal human variation, but rather become a thingso different that we
must call them disabled. Moreover, the very notion of difference relies on
something else being normative. We are all different from one another. In
other words, a person who is perceived as having a dis/ability is no more or
less different from someone who is considered nondisabled than that nondis-
abled person is different from him/her. Yet, the person with the dis/ability is
perceived as the one who is inherently different. However, there can be no
difference without a norm, upon which difference is measured. We agree,
therefore, with Baglieri and Knopf (2004) who state, The question is not
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whether we perceive differences among people, but, rather, what meaning is
brought to bear on those perceived differences(525, emphasis added).
In the remaining portion of this article we put some of these ideas into
specic tenets and then elaborate on each tenet. We do so not to be prescrip-
tive, but rather to try to operationalize what kinds of specic questions and
issues can be illuminated from a DisCrit approach.
Tenets of DisCrit
For DisCrit to be useful, we propose the following tenets:
(1) DisCrit focuses on ways that the forces of racism and ableism circu-
late interdependently, often in neutralized and invisible ways, to
uphold notions of normalcy.
(2) DisCrit values multidimensional identities and troubles singular
notions of identity such as race or dis/ability or class or gender or
sexuality, and so on.
(3) DisCrit emphasizes the social constructions of race and ability and
yet recognizes the material and psychological impacts of being
labeled as raced or dis/abled, which sets one outside of the western
cultural norms.
(4) DisCrit privileges voices of marginalized populations, traditionally
not acknowledged within research.
(5) DisCrit considers legal and historical aspects of dis/ability and race
and how both have been used separately and together to deny the
rights of some citizens.
(6) DisCrit recognizes whiteness and Ability as Property and that gains
for people labeled with dis/abilities have largely been made as the
result of interest convergence of white, middle-class citizens.
(7) DisCrit requires activism and supports all forms of resistance.
Tenet one
DisCrit focuses on the ways race and dis/ability have been used in tandem
to marginalize particular groups in society. In other words, DisCrit focuses
on the interdependent ways that racism and ableism shape notions of nor-
malcy. These mutually constitutive processes are enacted through normaliz-
ing practices such as labeling a student at-riskfor simply being a person
of color, thereby reinforcing the unmarked norms of whiteness, and signal-
ing to many that the student is not capable in body and mind (Collins 2003;
Ferri 2010; Ladson-Billings and Tate 1995). Neither institutional racism
alone nor institutional ableism on its own can explain why students of color
are more likely to be labeled with dis/abilities and segregated than their
white peers with and without dis/abilities; instead, it is the two working
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together (Beratan 2008). Like Watts and Erevelles (2004), we argue that
any discussion of racial and dis/ability oppression must necessarily, at the
same time, engage with a critique of structures of normativitythat are
produced in an ableist and racist society(292). As Ladson-Billings (1998)
notes, when traits such as whiteness and ability are seen as normal, every-
one is ranked and categorized in relation to these points of opposition(9).
Said differently, DisCrit recognizes that normative cultural standards such as
whiteness and ability lead to viewing differences among certain individuals
as decits.
Moreover, DisCrit seeks to reject the commonly held assumption that those
who are perceived as deviating from standards of whiteness or ability neces-
sarily want to achieve those standards (Erevelles 2000). Many individuals
who identify as having learning or other differences that we might perceive as
dis/abilities, for instance, talk about the strengths they have because of their
unique perspective in the world. They insist that they would not give up their
so-called dis/ability to achieve normality(Kunc, in Habib 2008; Mooney
2008). Yet, purposely falling shortof cultural standards, in addition to being
seen as irresponsible and unintelligible, can be sanctioned if viewed as a
burden to society. In an extreme example of this, a school district in Michigan
worked to legally compel a deaf mother to get cochlear implants for her two
deaf sons arguing that it was best for the boys and society in terms of their
future employability and economic opportunities (Shapiro 2002).
Tenet two
DisCrit emphasizes multidimensional identities (Solorzano and Bernal 2001)
rather than singular notions of identity, such as race, dis/ability, social class,
or gender. Central, too, is a consideration of how certain identity markers,
which have been viewed as differences from normative cultural standards,
have allowed teachers, other school personnel, and society to perceive par-
ticular students as decient, lacking, and inferior (Collins 2003). Therefore,
DisCrit foregrounds issues that have previously not been given prominence
in CRT and recognize how these other markers of difference from the norm,
in addition to race, contribute to constructing dis/ability (e.g. culture, sexual-
ity, language, immigration status, gender, class). Additionally, DisCrit
acknowledges how experiences with stigma and segregation often vary,
based on other identity markers (i.e. gender, language, class) and how this
negotiation of multiple stigmatized identities adds complexity.
Tenet three
DisCrit rejects the understanding of both race and dis/ability as primarily
biological facts and recognizes the social construction of both as societys
response to differencesfrom the norm (Mirza 1998). Race and ability are
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socially constructed in tandem, the perception of race informingthe
potential abilities of a student and the abilities informingthe perceived
race. Simultaneously, DisCrit rejects what Crenshaw (1993) has called the
vulgarization of social construction, where critics claim that if race is con-
sidered a social construction then it should be seen as insignicant and be
ignored. In other words, while recognizing the social construction of particu-
lar identity markers, such as race and ability, DisCrit acknowledges that
these categories hold profound signicance in peoples lives, both in the
present and historically. The error, however, made by those who make a
false distinction between race as a social construction and dis/ability as a
biological fact, distinguishing dis/ability from aspects of identity that are
seen as culturally determined differences,continues to justify the segrega-
tion and marginalization of students who are considered dis/abled from their
normalpeers. As stated above, this phenomenon is particularly true for
students of color with dis/ability labels who are more likely to be segregated
than their white peers with the same dis/ability label (Fierros and Conroy
2002). Segregation, particularly of black and brown students labeled with a
dis/ability, would be illegal if based upon race, but is allowed because dis/
ability is seen as a realrather than a constructed difference (Beratan 2008;
Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010). DisCrit renounces the uncritical assumption
that segregation is necessary or rational approach to dis/ability any more
than it would be necessary or rational approach to other identity markers.
Moreover, simply xingover-representation of students of color is
insufcient if by doing so, we still leave segregation based on dis/ability
intact something that DisCrit nds unjustied and problematic.
Tenet four
DisCrit empathizes with John Powells words, I feel like Ive been spoken
for and I feel like Ive been spoken about, but rarely do I feel like Ive been
spoken to(Dalton 1987, 81). A similar mantra in dis/ability rights circles,
Nothing about us, without us(Charlton 2000, 3), also speaks to this tenet.
DisCrit, therefore, seeks to disrupt the tradition of ignoring the voices of
traditionally marginalized groups and instead privileges insider voices
(Matsuda 1987). DisCrit invites understanding of ways students respond to
injustices (i.e. being constructed as decient, or being segregated and stig-
matized) through fostering or attending to counter-narratives and explicitly
reading these stories against the grain of master narratives. Attending to
counter-narratives encourage us to learn how students respond to injustice,
not through passive acceptance, but through tactics such as strategic maneu-
vering. In one study, for instance, young women labeled with an invisible
dis/ability would physically or verbally deect or avoid being identied by
peers as being in special education not simply to pass as normal,but to
counter easy assumptions about who they were as young women (Ferri and
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Connor 2010). In another study of young woman with intellectual dis/abili-
ties, Erevelles and Mutua (2005) illustrate how the claiming of subjectivity
can even entail the acknowledgment that one is in fact a woman, because
others, including family members, may fail to acknowledge the adult status
of individuals with dis/abilities and see them instead as perpetual children.
We emphasize that DisCrit does not purport to give voice,as we recog-
nize that people of color and/or those with dis/abilities already have voice.
Research that purports to give voices runs the risks of speaking for or in
place of people of color with dis/abilities, which can reinforce paternalistic
notions. Although the perspectives and insights of historically marginalized
populations have been ignored in traditional research and education reform,
we argue, instead, that it is imperative for readers to listen carefully and
respectfully to counter-narratives, and for researchers to use them as a form
of academic activism to explicitly talk backto master-narratives. Matsuda
(1987) highlights the benets of contrasting counter-narratives with the mas-
ter narrative, When notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, are
examinedfrom the position of groups who have suffered through history,
moral relativism recedes and identiable normative priorities emerge(325).
Tenet ve
DisCrit considers legal, ideological, and historical aspects of dis/ability and
race and how both have been used separately and together to deny the rights
of certain citizens. The root cause of this denial of rights is the belief in the
superiority of whiteness, wherein a racial hierarchy was created with white-
ness at the apex, blackness at the base and all other races falling in between
(Bonilla-Silva 2006). To be clear, this hierarchy had only two permanent x-
tures, whiteness and blackness; differential racialization meant that other
races could shift in their positions, but none could match the superiority of
whiteness (Delgado and Stefancic 2001).
Salient is that pseudo-scientic knowledge emerged not as objective nd-
ings, which is what they were presented as, but as ways to reinforce the
belief of whiteness as superior (Valencia 1997). Through the scienceof
phrenology, craniology and eugenics among others, it was proventhat peo-
ple of color had less capacity for intelligence than whites and laws, policies
and programs were created that discouraged reproduction of particular types
of people, particularly the poor and people of color, along with racial mix-
ing (Menchaca 1997). We must acknowledge differential racialization, how-
ever. In other words, that race is an ever-shifting category. For example,
whiteness was not always the property of poor whites or certain immigrant
groups (Roediger 1991). Forced sterilization in parts of the US was directed
not just at people who we would now recognize as people of color, but also
poor whites and Eastern Europeans immigrants who were thought to be
feebleminded (Selden 1999).
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DisCrit, therefore, offers the possibility of a more complicated reading of
the basis of white supremacy. Without racialized notions of ability, racial
difference would simply be racial difference. Because racial difference has
been explicitly linked with an intellectual hierarchy, however, racial differ-
ences take on additional weight. Historically, scientic knowledge in the
form of phrenology coupled with anthropological physiognomy did not sim-
ply reinforce racial hierarchies; it created their possibility. Today, various
notions of dis/ability (identied through what are assumed to be objective
clinical assessments or responses to evidence-basedinterventions) reinforce
similar race and ability hierarchies. Said another way, dis/ability and race
rst became equated and molded through pseudo-sciences, but later further
cemented through seemingly objectiveclinical assessment practices. The
dis/ability-race nexus were then reied through laws, policies, and programs
until these concepts became uncritically conated and viewed as the natural
order of things (Baynton 2001). DisCrit consequently challenges beliefs
about the inferiority of the intelligence and culture of people of color, born
within pseudo-sciences and later upheld by contemporary assessment
Legal policies also worked to racializedis/ability both historically and
currently (Schweik 2009). Black codes were used against freed slaves after
Reconstruction that criminalized vagrancy or laziness in a way that implied
African Americans refused to work due to mental illness or dis/ability
instead of refusal to work due to unfair and dangerous labor practices (Alex-
ander 2010; Davis 2003). These codes criminalized actions such as
vagrancy, absence from work and insulting gestures only when the person
was black. In 1974, the Lau vs Nichols case along with the Lau remedies,
established the need for bilingual education and attempted to end the prac-
tice of nding limited English procient speaking children disabled through
English-only instruction (Baca and Cervantes 2004; Baker 2001). Currently,
IDEA has made racial disproportionality in special education is one of the
three priorities for monitoring and enforcement (Kim et al. 2010). Overall,
we see how legal policies have racialized dis/ability and therefore made
students of color with dis/abilities the beneciaries of a double-edged sword
wherein they receive specialized services due to the dis/ability label, but
endure segregation, stigmatization and debatable quality of educational
outcomes(Hart et al. 2009). Thus, DisCrit renounces imposed segregation
and promotes an ethic of unqualied belonging and full inclusion in schools
and society.
Finally, the focus on over-representation can deect concerns about the
lack of special education supports in under resourced schools that students
of color are more likely to attend. Kim et al. (2010) note:
For minority children, there is a tension between the misuse of special educa-
tion identication, placement, and discipline as a means of school exclusion,
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and another equally troubling phenomenon, the failure to identify poor and
minority students with disabilities who need high-quality special education
and the related procedural protections.
Additionally, DisCrit is interested in ways that race and ability shape ideas
about citizenship and belonging. Race and dis/ability gure into who is per-
ceived as an ideal citizen, including who is allowed to represent or signify a
nation, how nations pursue buildinga strong, healthy population that is
ready for competition in work and war, and ways nations seek to reproduce
and expand. We acknowledge that dis/ability plays out contra to these
notions triggering stereotypic associations with weaknesses, including
fears of individuals seen as unhealthy, unable to adequately compete in work
and war, with their reproductive potential questioned, feared or even forcibly
managed (Terry and Urla 1995). It is important to make these connections
not just historically, but also in the current context of immigration restric-
tions, punitive policies, and the changing demographics of schools (Caps
et al. 2005). Furthermore, DisCrit acknowledges ways that marginalization
in schools ows in multiple directions at once illustrating how English
Language Learners, for instance, are also marginalized and generally per-
ceived from a decit lens, which leads to their citizenship and belonging
also being questioned (Olivos and Quintana de Vallidolid 2005).
Tenet six
DisCrit recognizes whiteness and Ability as property,conferring economic
benets to those who can claim whiteness and/or normalcy (Harris 1993)
and disadvantages for those who cannot lay claim to these identity statuses.
For years, populations ghting for Civil Rights, such as women and people
of color, have been positioned as disabled, or unt in some way that justi-
ed their exclusion from the rights of others who t the norm (Kudlick
2003). In addition to the denial of basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness, society also diverted economic resources to those within the
dominant class, which kept marginalized groups economically fettered by
not providing access to fully participate in all aspects of society. In turn,
those being denied rights often claimed to be deserving of civil rights by
claiming membership within the categorization of whiteness or ablebodied-
ness, thereby denying membership in the categories of being coloredor
disabled (May and Ferri 2005).
Some who advocate for a strong deaf culture argue they should be cate-
gorized as not disabled (Baynton 2001; Lane 2002), but as a linguistic
minority. Early suffrage posters, advocating the right of women to vote,
often relied on juxtaposing visual images of the educated and cultured white
woman with images of men of color and men who were visually coded as
insane or feebleminded (Ferri 2011). We recognize that individuals who
resist labels of color and/or dis/ability are making strategic attempts to
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partake in the benets of being perceived within the normative cultural stan-
dards of able bodied and white. These benets of passing for white and/or
able bodied in some extreme cases could literally mean survival, while for
others it might simply afford opportunities to benet from the economic and
social privileges enjoyed by dominant groups. However, these attempts ulti-
mately reify binaries of able/disabled and white/black and solidify property
and other rights as only accessible to some (Harris 1993).
Due to a societal subscription to whiteness and ability as property, DisCrit
holds that the political interests of oppressed groups have often been gained
only through interest convergence. Interest convergence, a concept Derrick
Bell (1980) put forth, holds that the interests of blacks in receiving racial
equality will be accommodated only when it converges with the interests of
whites(22). Bell uses the example of the legal ruling of Brown vs Board
of Education, which was passed at a time when it was in the best interests of
whites, who were working to defeat communism and needed to win the
hearts and minds of those in third world and, for that matter African Ameri-
cans in the US, to end segregation. Laws protecting people with dis/abilities,
such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which sought to
extend many of the same protections to people with dis/abilities that were
extended to people of color in the Civil Rights Act of 1965 (access to public
accommodations and protection from discrimination). Thus, resistance to
even basic accessibility provisions and efforts to remove disabling barriers
from society must be marketed as good for all (Asch 2001; Guinier and Tor-
res 2002). The common example of curb cuts and wider sidewalks, which
were useful for parents with baby strollers and people pulling wheeled suit-
cases, helped to justify the time and expense of making sidewalks accessible
for people in wheelchairs. Moreover, as schools face budget crises, fewer stu-
dents may get dis/ability labels or be placed in segregated special education
classes, not because teaching is becoming more responsive to their needs or
because segregation is wrong, but because these may be seen as saving
money. However, DisCrit does more than identify when just the interests of
dominant groups align with those who are of color or those who are labeled
disabled; DisCrit also makes visible the ways in which the same labels pro-
vide different opportunities to students of different races. For instance, label-
ing a white student with a learning disability may lead to more support in the
general education classroom and extra time on high stakes tests, which can
ensure access to college, whereas for a student of color, the same disability
label can result in increased segregation, less access to the general education
curriculum, and therefore, limited access to secondary education.
Tenet seven
DisCrit supports activism and promotes diverse forms of resistance. Many
Critical Race Theorists call for activism that links academic work to the
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community. This avoids sterile ideas being handed down from the ivory
tower without practical application as well as studying the nativeswherein
people who know nothing about the community suggest ways to x it based
on decit perspectives (Dixson and Rousseau 2005; Stovall 2006). DisCrit
acknowledges the need for activism and the reasons behind it, but recog-
nizes that some of the activities traditionally thought of as activism (e.g.
marches, sit-ins, and some forms of civil disobedience) may be based on
ableist norms, which may not be accessible for those with corporeal differ-
ences. Those with admirable equity-based goals can inadvertently maintain
and perpetuate inequity for other groups. In other words, to suggest that
activism cannot occur from behind a desk may be missing a larger point
about what it means to resist forms of domination. If theory can be violent,
that is if theory can erase large portions of the population by ignoring their
needs and realities, we also believe that theory can be emancipatory, offering
oppressed groups a language of critique and resistance (Leonardo 2004).
DisCrit supports diverse expressions of resistance that are linked to and
informed by the community, whether that be academic or theoretical,
pedagogical, or activist.
To summarize, each of the tenets we put forth shares the desire to reject
forces, practices, and institutions that attempt to construct dis/ability based
on differences from normative cultural standards. We reject attempts at the
containment of people of color with dis/abilities due to their perceived diver-
gence from normative cultural standards. Instead, we encourage society to
become more encompassing of diversity and perceived difference, at the
same time we question the very norms that create difference. Becoming
more encompassing includes removing the policing and enforcement of nor-
mality, dissolving barriers that actively dis/able people, and focusing instead
on learning from those that have historically been uniquely positioned as
having what Baker (2002) terms outlaw ontologies(663). As Matsuda
(1987) plainly states, Those who have experienced discrimination speak
with a special voice to which we should listen(63).
Tensions and cautions
There are several tensions between DS and CRT that may have previously
kept some theorists from forging a coalition or engaging in dialogue. We
see these tensions as productive sites for furthering knowledge, with the
potential to transform current inequities in our education system. People of
color have been historically positioned as dis/abled and inferior in order to
justify limited rights. During slavery some would try to restrict African
Americansbid for citizenship rights by stating that they were feeble-minded
and lacked intelligence; in other words, too awed to participate in self gov-
ernance. A common response from African Americans (and other people of
color) was to argue that they were not dis/abled and, therefore, deserving of
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their rights (Baynton 2001). Although we recognize that dis/ability has long
been associated with deviance and lack of intelligence and that this might
explain why people of color would ercely ght against labeling themselves
as dis/abled, we also believe this ideology is grounded in hegemonic notions
of normalcy. Unfortunately, subscribing to the binary of abled/disabled pits
marginalized communities against each other and ignores the fact that rights
should not be taken away from anyone, dis/abled or not.
We believe that dis/ability must be primarily understood as a political
and social category. As Erevelles and Minear (2010) note:
Unfortunately, rather than nurturing an alliance between race and disability,
CRT scholars (like other radical scholars) have mistakenly conceived of dis-
ability as a biological category, as an immutable and pathological abnormality
rooted in the medical language of symptoms and diagnostic categories(Lin-
ton 1998, 8). (132)
Other marginalized groups have, to date, largely failed to recognize dis/abil-
ity as a socially constructed identity. Instead, relying on hegemonic notions
of normality, they view dis/ability as purely biological fact that is apolitical,
asocial, and ahistorical. In other words, when deaf activists insist that they
are not disable they are more than likely subscribing to a medical model
denition of dis/ability rather than a social model one. Similarly, people of
color who argue that the problem of over-representation is the inaccurate
labeling of kids of color as dis/abled, still see special education labeling as
appropriate, even necessary, for those children with realdis/abilities. To
complicate matters further, Gillborns (2012) study mentioned earlier reveals
how racism can also impede the opportunities for people of color in access-
ing reasonable accommodations for impairments. In sum, in addition to
giving labels, racism can withhold them.
Some DS scholars ignore or minimize racial dimensions that affect the
social construction of dis/ability or include only a cursory mentioning of
race. A lack of or limited discussion of race focuses on only one dimension
of a person, dis/ability, and ignores multidimensional identities. Other DS
theorists take up gender, yet many leave it out (Jean and Samuels 2002;
Wendell 1993). Those who focus on this singular dimension of a person
often claim that dis/ability creates a universal experience, that it is an essen-
tial or primary identity marker. However, we would ask, What is universal
about dis/ability experience is there really one dis/ability experience or
isnt it mediated by the particular social, historical, and political context?
(Ferri 2010, 141). There are a variety of dis/ability labels and each can be
experienced differently depending on cultural contexts, social class, race and
gender. Resisting essentialism, we recognize that having a dis/ability is not
universal and in fact, is qualitatively different for individuals with the same
dis/ability depending on cultural contexts, race, social class, sexuality, and
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so on. Likwise, dissimilar dis/abilities are experienced in various ways as
they intersect with these and other markers of identity.
We also recognize that intersectionality, or the need to account for
multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is
constructed(Crenshaw 1993, 1245), can be, and often is, co-opted or
misused (Delgado 2012). As Jones (2009) notes:
the ubiquitous use (or misuse) of the respective frameworks can sometimes
leave the impression that a scholars most important objective is to testthe
respective theoretical approaches spotting gender or difference here, there,
and everywhere not, instead, to use these frameworks to illuminate the
complicated and sometimes contradictory ways in which situated interaction is
linked to structural circumstances. (91)
We want to consider how race and dis/ability are built together in order to
recognize that boundaries of only racism or ableism leave out a wealth of
experiences without forgetting that other social locations affect how the
social world is constructed.
Along with productive tensions, there are also explicit cautions that
should be noted. DisCrit recognizes that we cannot conate race and dis/
ability; they are not interchangeable (Ferri and Connor 2006). This is not to
say that those of color who are labeled dis/abled should be ashamed of their
race or their dis/ability label. Instead, it recognizes that to be of color does
not make one dis/abled and to be labeled dis/abled does not make one of
color. Moreover, we must resist the urge to assume that all types of oppres-
sion result in the same or equivalent experience (Spelman 1990). We must
not assume that because an individual has experienced oppression of one
type (e.g. ableism), that that person knows what it is like to have experienced
oppression of other types (e.g. racism). A recent example of this occurred
during the Occupy Wall Street protests when a Slutwalk sign, held by white
feminists, quoted John Lennon by saying, Woman is nigger of the world.
The sign implied that positions of subordination are exactly the same, when
in actuality, they are quite different (Simmons 2011). To be a woman is not
equal to being black, to be a black woman is not equal to being a white
woman and to be a black woman with a dis/ability is different than being a
white woman with a dis/ability. Moreover, there is a diversity of experience
within any of those categories based on social class, culture, nation, and so
on. Additionally, this is an example of traditional activism (e.g. protesting
and marching) with an equity aim can have unintended consequences as it
does not guarantee equity. Instead, DisCrit attempts to address ways in which
race and dis/ability, as socially constructed and maintained systems of
oppression, have been used in tandem to justify limiting access.
Additionally, DisCrit acknowledges that if we are not careful, dis/ability
can be assumed to refer to every type and degree of dis/ability. As mentioned
earlier, we are wary of any attempts to suggest universal experiences, or
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essentializing one identity marker of a person. DisCrit rejects any attempt to
offer an account of the life and experience of all people with dis/abilities
without their voices. Instead, it encourages understanding about ways in
which society limits access and embodiment of difference. While Berry
observes, Commonality of race does not produce commonality of self-iden-
tity(Berry 2010, 24), we believe this to also be true of dis/ability. Therefore
we respect any movement in which people take up the label that has been a
point of oppression and rework into a point of pride. Crip culture reclaims
the dis/ability label similar to gay communities reclaiming queer (Warner
1999), and the black pride movement of 1960s and 70s (VanDeBurg 1992).
We believe that oppressed individuals and groups have the rights to name
themselves, in contrast to privileged individuals and groups creating norms
that perpetuate their privilege and labeling others in contrast to that norm.
This work is not neat, tidy, or simple. As the late poet Laura Hershey (1991)
stated, You get proud by practicing.
In this article we have articulated the need for simultaneously keeping race
and dis/ability at front and center in our research. We have put forth DisCrit
as valuable both as a theoretical framework and as a methodological tool to
help investigate intersectional positionings to reveal what has been, to date,
missed, dismissed, hidden, or purposefully unacknowledged within educa-
tional research. We believe that this shared branch of CRT and DS holds
great potential for interanimating, expanding, and deepening what is under-
stood about the interconnectedness of race and dis/ability. Its scope can
encompass critiques of structures and systems, historical movements,
contemporary practices, and how they relate to current education reforms.
Connecting macro levels of analysis to on the ground explorations of how
systems of race and dis/ability are experienced at micro level, DisCrit fore-
grounds communities that are impacted by their position at these (and other)
interstices that inuence the degree of access to all aspects of life, including:
education, housing, health, transportation, public services (libraries, parks,
stores), wealth, culture, supportive and community services. DisCrit, how-
ever, does not seek to simplify our understanding of oppression; rather, it
seeks to complicate notions of race and ability by recognizing ways they are
It is imperative that in an age of mass standardization within education
as a result of No Child Left Behind, institutionalized sorting mechanisms
such as Response to Intervention, privatization of public educational ser-
vices, the imposition of the Common Core Standards, and the accountability
of teachers tied to student test scores, that we do not lose sight of the most
vulnerable population of dis/abled students of color. These students have
historically be been among the rst to fall through the cracks, as they do
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not and cannot t rigid norms imposed upon them, and are now even
considered a liabilityfor teachers (Ball and Harry 2010; Danforth, Taff,
and Ferguson 2006; Dudley-Marling and Gurn 2010; Ferri and Connor
2006; Slee 2011; Smith 2009).
We believe that DisCrit can be used to help push past the impasse expe-
rienced in researching the perpetual over-representation of children of color
within dis/ability categories that trigger more restrictive environments. It is
obvious that responses to address over-representation are inadequate, serving
too often as lip-service to one of the USAs most longstanding problems.
Many institutional attempts at rectifying over-representation are pro forma
and are not taken seriously. For example, Volugarides (2012) describes how
in one suburban district, disproportionality was simply referred to its ofcial
designation within State Education Quality Assurance reports as indicator
nine,instead of examining the practices that led school ofcials to be cited
for noncompliance yet simultaneously state, We dont have a problem
here.In another example, Artiles (2011) studied the US Department of Edu-
cations relative risk ratio thresholds for disproportionality, noting the inef-
fectiveness of states determining and self-monitoring their own ratios, some
with ratios of 5:1 (439).
In a tting nod to CRT, Artiles et al. (2010) cull from the work of Tate,
Ladson-Billings, and Grants (1996) analysis of Brown vs Board of
Educationsimplementation, to conclude that researchers cannot Mathema-
tize social problems with deep structural roots because such calculations are
not likely to unearth historical precursors and ideologically laden processes
that constitute them(296). Artiles et al. (2010) also connect disproportion-
ality to resistance within educational research to acknowledge cultural inu-
ences. They write, The reluctance to frame disproportionality as a problem
stresses technical arguments that ignore the role of historical, contextual,
and structural forces(282). Furthermore, they note, Similarly, this position
has ignored the notion of culture and its impact on professional practices
In her work on how systems construct ability and create disproportionali-
ty, Kozleski (2011) urges the research community to go beyond its self-
imposed boundaries and embrace what has found to be powerful allies:
activity theory, systems thinking, and complexity theory(5). It is clear that
by researching the situatedness of people in different environments and how
they function within those contexts, cultural practices can be contrasted with
institutional practices. As Arzubiaga et al. (2008) points out, it is incumbent
on researchers to understand not peoples cultures, but how people live cul-
turally[and therefore become able to] reimagine communities, particularly
those historically marginalized and construed as culturally deprived, devoid
of resources, and/or culturally stagnant(314).
In their analysis of classroom-based research, Artiles et al. (2010) noted
the deliberate sidestepping of cultural locations, including those of the
22 S.A. Annamma et al.
Race Ethnicity and Education 2013.16:1-31. downloaded from
researcher, the researched, and the context in which the research occurs.
Their work reveals the inadequacy of traditional models of inquiry in
furthering knowledge of cultural differences among children and the profes-
sionals who research them. Arzubiaga et al. (2008) note that
Systematic analysis of empirical studies published over substantial periods of
time in peer refereed journals in psychology, special education, and school
psychology show that researchers have neglected to ask questions, or to docu-
ment and/or analyze data that would shed light on the role of culture in
human development and provide alternative explanations for student achieve-
ment and behavior other than student decits, which are often assumed with
minority group status. (311)
The critique of traditional research methods (particularly within special
education), the ineffective responses to reducing disproportionality, and the
movement by some scholars toward more culturally-focused understandings
of how difference is constituted are all movements compatible with DisCrit.
At the same time, inuenced by the collaborative work of White Studies
theorist Zeus Leonardo and DS scholar Alicia Broderick (Leonardo and
Broderick 2011), DisCrit problematizes the very notion of over-representa-
tion. After all, what would be the correct representationof children of
color in dis/ability categories? According to whom? Based on what ratio-
nale? In many ways, the exploration of these questions can be seen as the
tip of the iceberg in terms of how DisCrit has the potential to deepen our
understanding about complicated issues.
This article is a beginning. We acknowledge that DisCrit is a theoretical
framework that is very much a work-in-progress. We have endeavored to
make the case for expanding the elds of CRT and DS by engaging with
each other through an intersectional approach to understanding ways in
which society congures notions of ability and disability both in and out of
schools. DisCrit contends that a non-intersectional approach to research, one
that attempts to side-step particularized contexts and the dynamic forces of
culture manifest within them, provide limited even misleading conclu-
sions that do not necessarily serve the people being studied, despite claims
to the contrary. Much of the limited work within the eld of special educa-
tion is a major case in point (Brantlinger 2006).
In closing, by contributing to broadening ideas about how research is
conceptualized and carried out, DisCrit holds great potential for looking at
old, seemingly intractable problems through a new lens. Ultimately, its
purpose is to contribute pushing past current theoretical and conceptual
limitations with several elds, including CRT, DS, special education, and
multiculturalism, among others. In going forward, we invite other research-
ers to engage in conversations around the promise of DisCrit, and partake in
related difcult discussions linking race and dis/ability to education, laws,
civil rights, human rights, in the quest for a more socially just society.
Race Ethnicity and Education 23
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1. We deliberately use dis/abilityinstead of disabilitythroughout this article to
call attention to ways in which the latter overwhelmingly signals a specic
inability to perform culturally-dened expected tasks (such as learning or walk-
ing) that come to dene the individual as primarily and generally unableto
navigate society. We believe the /in disability disrupts misleading understand-
ings of disability, as it simultaneously conveys the mixture of ability and dis-
ability. We have maintained the use of disabilitywhen referring to its ofcial
use within classication structures and organizations. We provide a more com-
prehensive discussion troubling of disability as fact in the introduction of this
2. Like Gutiérrez, Morales and Martinez (2009), we use the term non-dominant to
recognize and emphasize the central issue is the power relations between those
who are in power and those who, despite their growing census numbers, are
not(238). This term is an alternative to minority and other terms that may refer
to but do not draw attention to those communities that have historically and
currently experienced marginalization by dominant communities.
3. We are drawing insights here from the work of Crenshaw (1993) and Solórzano
and Yosso (2001) on race and gender.
4. In the eld of general publishing, for example, tags within the library of con-
gress tags for books that have a dis/ability focus are often placed in the self-
help category. This impacts where these books are shelved in libraries and
bookstores, continuing to designate dis/ability to be seen as a health concern,
rather than a cultural or political issue. Sports is also illustrative as there are
times when dis/abled competitors are seen to be disadvantaged and in need of
separate or segregated spaces in order to level the playing eld.Yet, at other
times, it is argued that technologically advanced prosthesis or other dis/ability
related accommodations provide unfair advantages. In this case, disabled ath-
letes are seen as having super-human abilities, disqualifying them from compet-
ing with non-disabled athletes. Either too impaired or too enhanced, individuals
with dis/ability are barred from participation. A third example can be seen in
the way that recreational activities get coded as therapies when they involve
dis/abled people. If an individual does art and is disabled, their activity is coded
as art therapy. If a disabled individual works out, people assume they are in
physical therapy.
5. We acknowledge that dis/ability is an elastic category because it expands and
contracts over time and throughout cultures. What is considered a dis/ability
today may or may not have been seen as a dis/ability 100, 50, or even 10 years
ago! Because dis/ability is socially and historically contingent, dis/ability is
always shifting and moving as a category of difference.
6. We do recognize and respect the rights of those from non-dominant communi-
ties to self-select segregation (e.g. some people with autism prefer smaller or
quieter environments with less interaction, separate schools and programs for
LGBTQ kids who may need them, schools for girls only, schools and programs
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Race Ethnicity and Education 2013.16:1-31. downloaded from
... In a seemingly neutral but clearly racialized "meritocracy," whiteness comes to serve as a credential (Ray, 2019) or property (Ladson-Billings, 2021), which gives differential access to spaces, scarce resources, and time (Ray, 2019). This system of differential access is also based on the idea of ability as property or credential; able-bodied students are given privileges that their disabled peers are not, ranging from physical access to spaces to freedom from excessive surveillance and punishment (Annama, 2015;Annamma et al., 2013). Race and dis/ability have historically been, and continue to be, conflated; cultural differences among groups and students are framed as deficits and disabilities (Annamma et al., 2013;Blanchett, 2006). ...
... This system of differential access is also based on the idea of ability as property or credential; able-bodied students are given privileges that their disabled peers are not, ranging from physical access to spaces to freedom from excessive surveillance and punishment (Annama, 2015;Annamma et al., 2013). Race and dis/ability have historically been, and continue to be, conflated; cultural differences among groups and students are framed as deficits and disabilities (Annamma et al., 2013;Blanchett, 2006). Critiques of equating race with dis/ability frequently do not push back on the idea of disability as a legitimate basis for exclusion (Annamma et al., 2013;Baynton, 2001), leaving special education intact as a system for segregating students (Annamma et al., 2013). ...
... Race and dis/ability have historically been, and continue to be, conflated; cultural differences among groups and students are framed as deficits and disabilities (Annamma et al., 2013;Blanchett, 2006). Critiques of equating race with dis/ability frequently do not push back on the idea of disability as a legitimate basis for exclusion (Annamma et al., 2013;Baynton, 2001), leaving special education intact as a system for segregating students (Annamma et al., 2013). For example, white students are more likely to be recommended for advanced courses than students of color with similar transcripts (Francis et al., 2019); whiteness is equated with ability and serves as a credential that provides access to these courses. ...
In this conceptual essay, we analyze a recent trend in teacher preparation: extended clinical practice. We unearth how this practice continues to perpetuate the racial status quo instead of achieving educational change. We draw on institutionalized racism to examine how and why clinical practice in P-12 schools, often viewed as the most important or impactful component of teacher preparation, preserves and supports racist schooling practices and outcomes. Our analysis highlights a set of normative assumptions within extended clinical practice that are enacted across individual, intra-organizational, and inter-organizational levels, reinforced by color-evasive practices disguised as color-neutrality. As we examine these assumptions, we identify specific racialized institutional pressures across multiple contexts. We conclude with a series of recommendations for teacher preparation that aims to advance racial equity in P-12 schooling.
... Critical disability theory (CDT), or DisCrit, is a theoretical framework based upon the work of Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory (Annama, Connor, & Ferri, 2016a). It frames disability through the lens and influence of social considerations, that the intersection of disability and other identities has compounding effects on disabled individuals (Annamma et al., 2013). CDT says social environments, societal expectations, and social norms affect how individuals with disabilities perceive themselves, how society perceives them, and how these perceptions interact to create and reinforce societal rules. ...
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Sexuality education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism is fraught with challenges, including confusion of the role of sexuality educator, delayed education, and a one size fits all approach. Because students with disabilities have multifaceted, intersectional identities, it is important that sexuality education includes representation of the whole person. For this study, current literature about intersectionality and sexuality education was examined to determine how to support students' intersectional identities in sexuality planning, instruction, and implementation. Although there are few resources specifically targeting sexuality instruction for students with disabilities, it is important to choose curricula that represent a variety of ways that students may identify, including multiple, intersectional identities. This research includes a review of sexuality education resources and curricula from an intersectional perspective to assist in selecting materials that will represent various aspects of a student's identity.
... DisCrit, Learning Lab) (Annamma et al., 2013;Artiles, 2003;Bal et al., 2018;Banks, 2018;Cioè-Peña;Padilla, 2021). 5 Ideologies are ''about meaning in the service of power'' (Bonilla-Silva, 2006, p. 25). ...
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We used a situated approach to examine the aftermath of citations for racial disparities in special education and discipline. The study was conducted in one suburban school district and examined staff's interpretations and responses to multiple disproportionality citations. We found that historical, spatial, and sociocultural contexts mediated stakeholders' interpretations and reactions to citations and the consequences of their responses. Our findings demonstrate how a history of race relations in the district and the community as well as spatial opportunity structures shaped disability and discipline racial disparities; the consequences of a damaged imagery for multiply marginalized youth and their families in explanations of disproportion-ality citations; and the shortcomings of the district's symbolic and predominately color-evasive responses as a consequence of ambiguous federal and state policy mandates.
... History, however, has taught us that the boundaries for normality and typicality are porous. In short, normality is socially constructed, meaning that the concept is created and upheld through human needs, desires, and power dynamics (see Annamma et al., 2013). Nario-Redmond (2020) summarizes work from disability scholars in noting that the concept of normality has historically been deployed "as a tool to demarcate, measure, and manage deviant populations considered less than human, animalistic, or impediments to human progress" (p. ...
The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of a framework for equity-based multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), practical strategies for its implementation, and resources to be used by stakeholders when implementing these supports. Special education referral and placement have historically been contingent upon subjective decisions fraught with discriminatory practices that affect racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse (RELD) students. Through a social justice and culturally responsive lens, this chapter provides an in-depth analysis of existing MTSS systems and ways that inequities in schools can be mediated. Equitable practices are then described across academic and socioemotional supports. The chapter includes: (1) focus on an equity-based MTSS framework for RELD students; (2) implementation of equity-based approaches across three tiers; (3) equity-based assessment and progress monitoring; (4) recommendations for implementation; and (5) future research directions to ensure equity-based supports for RELD learners with or at risk for disability.
We track the academic progress of students who had special education designations in high school as they enroll in and persist through community college, irrespective of disability disclosure. We disaggregate outcomes by disability incidence and race/ethnicity, and use critical quantitative methods (QuantCrit) and DisCrit as frameworks to explore how racism and ableism intersect to produce inequitable outcomes at college entry and as students persist in college. Despite similar prior academic achievement, Latina/o/x students with disabilities were more likely to be placed in developmental English, and Black students with low-incidence disabilities (e.g. visual, hearing, and physical impairments) were less likely to complete coursework. We discuss how institutionalized racism and ableism work together to create these outcomes.
The experiences of disabled girls of color have historically been ignored within and/or excluded from US educational research and thus, are often unheard and under-recognized. Few scholars use an intersectional lens to examine how inequities impact disabled girls of color. In this call to action to the research community, existing scholarship focused on their lived experiences is reviewed first. Next, the affordances of intersectionality as an axiological, methodological, and theoretical approach to educational research are discussed. As such, scholars, educators, and policymakers can use intersectionality to learn about the types of experiences disabled girls of color are having in school, including what is working and what is not working for them, from their perspectives. Therefore, intersectionality supports a deeper and more complex understanding of how schooling inequities impact students. Moreover, intersectionality supports engagement and transformation wherein scholars, educators, and policymakers act on the suggestions and solutions disabled girls of color bring forth for dismantling unjust educational systems to (re)imagine, (re)design, and (re)construct them. Finally, implications for research, practice, and policy are discussed. In sum, honoring the experiences and perspectives of disabled girls of color has the power to transform schooling.
In this study, two teacher educators share their educational journey using narrative inquiry. Specifically, the authors share how they learned to ground their teaching and research in disability studies, what they have learned in the field to become better teachers for their students in (special) education, and why the shift in their theoretical framework and teaching might be relevant to other educators.
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The rise of school sports academies provides a privileged space for young elite athletes whose needs are not met in traditional schools. These academies have a long history of promoting their desire to have homogenous communities to represent national prowess on the world stage at sports events like the Olympics. This chapter will call into question the rise of school sports academies and their place in education, specifically in the Canadian context. We will first explore the history of school sports academies, the types of academies in Canada, and provide critical analysis of how these academies both play off of the hopes of young athletes and their families in the dream of 'making it big' and impact how hierarchical sports have emerged in schooling
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This article asserts that despite the salience of race in U.S. society, as a topic of scholarly inquiry, it remains untheorized. The article argues for a critical race theoretical perspective in education analogous to that of critical race theory in legal scholarship by developing three propositions: (1) race continues to be significant in the United States; (2) U.S. society is based on property rights rather than human rights; and (3) the intersection of race and property creates an analytical tool for understanding inequity. The article concludes with a look at the limitations of the current multicultural paradigm.
Crenshaw outlines the history and basic tenets of critical race theory. While critical race theory does not have a coherent set of fundamental ideas, scholars of this school of thought typically share two primary interests. First is to understand how white supremacy is maintained and related to legal ideals. Second is to change this state of affairs. Based in Critical Legal Studies, Critical Race Theory challenges elitism and exclusivity in the law. It focuses on the law's racist aspects, particularly the changing trends in racism. For example, colorblindness is now seen as preferable to race-consciousness, despite the fact that colorblindness merely masks the power embedded in such an ideology. Critical Race Theory developed in two prominent ways. First, the student protest at Harvard Law School in 1981 began a new avenue of legal study. Second, the Critical Legal Studies National Conference on silence and race solidified the place of Critical Race Theory in Critical Legal Studies.